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7AAEM748 Advanced Topics in Literary Studies: Africa's Radical Narrative Arts

Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Esther de Bruijn
Assessment: 1 x 4000 word essay (100%) and 1 x unassessed class presentation

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching: One two hour seminar weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module description:

The module will first examine some of the well-known aesthetic interventions on the continent, such as the Black-consciousness surrealism of Négritude, the ‘engaged cinema’ of Ousmane Sembène, and the native-language people’s theatre of Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It will also introduce popular arts—arts produced by and for ‘ordinary’ Africans—such as anti-Apartheid popular music, Angolan hip-hop, Nigerian video-film, and Ghanaian cartooning, which regularly challenge Euro-American aesthetic standards and, as such, assert alternative cultures of taste. In thinking through the relationship of radicality to democracy, we will be considering the categories of ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ and what each is able to achieve; asking about how form affects the accessibility of texts, particularly the printed text in relation to audio-visual and kinetic modes of expression; and probing into how the nature of publishing—by multinational partners or local commercial entities—affects  the type and degree of radicality that is possible. We will also be looking for what new methods Africa’s narrative arts themselves provide for examining postcolonial expressive culture.

No prior knowledge of African literature or popular culture is required.

Module aims:

This module inquires into a range of African narrative arts—both ‘élite’ and ‘popular’—that assert a vitalism that defies the cultural negation imposed by colonial and neocolonial orders. Taking its cue from Jacques Rancière’s concept of radical equality, the module examines the inter-constituting nature of aesthetics and politics and how African arts work to revolutionize perception—local and global—by making African people seen, heard, and counted. We will trace an aesthetic and philosophical trajectory that moves from the Marxist-Fanonian political philosophy of the Black radical tradition to the less self-conscious, but no less transformative, practices of contemporary local artists.

Learning outcomes:

  • A critical understanding of the Black radical tradition in relation to aesthetic theory, African narrative history, and contemporary African narrative arts
  • The ability to evaluate culturally different texts on their own critical and aesthetic terms.
  • The skillful deployment of theoretical and philosophical concepts to evaluate written literature, graphic narrative, and film
  • Production of a 4000-word essay using an appropriate range of materials on a topic of the student's own devising


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.


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